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Cover Library Poetry A Hot January

Indifference to names and other poems

John Horváth Jr.
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink MapThe Turkish baths in Budapest
“in nomine patri”
She was conceived in a holy place.
Far from where she stands, architects
saw her before first stones were cut.
Before first stained glass received lead,
they planned the edifice; urged workmen;
hired laborers who danced through heaven
high on vaults, buttresses and nave piers.
With the music of wind at their fingertips,
masons for these architects joined stones;
other craftsmen crafted novelty with cedar
perfectly with gold, teakwood, and alabaster
finials until she became firm chapel graceful
in clouds; With her spires and arches cutting,
curving, she is a refuge and a threat—
and all of this in dreams of architects.
But I am no judge of structures; I know her
as a tourist knows who happens by beauty,
grace of line, and rose window always open
to bright sun; I stood in her shadow one
morning. Photographs dull with years;
etchings fade; dreams deface. Memory
cannot suffice—to dream it is better
than to build the edifice for tears.
Frank tithes a tenth to the church.
He tithes another tenth to himself
and confesses to his priest, My soul
must burn in hell because I sacrifice
my life so that others may live. Ha!
He recites:
            For my love, I sacrifice life;
            For liberty, I sacrifice love.
At lunch he sits ass aside other asses
on flawless girders awaiting shipment
to the war effort this they must sacrifice.
White onions. Blackbread. Mudcoffee. Saltpork.
Tastes like torta, like sweat off a woman after
love tastes, like thin confection of nightshirt
between them. We are pressed meats and butter
cakes! Come, let us make another perfect girder
before the whistle ends our grazing asses.
For the workers there is a country of bakers
between foreman and themselves; dunes of flour,
seas of vinegar between. They crossed into famine
where Ferenc crossed into a woman who bakes
money in this factory—the foreman drinks wine
of their blood, eats the bread of their flesh.
Between them is money thin as a wafer.
We are the pressed meats, they say, butter
cakes! Come, we make another perfect girder.
The wet dough of their asses flattened arise
after their wife arms suddenly gentle spread
almonds and sourcherry across their memory
of how they came to suffer: Their sons must steal
sweets. Baba says, do not strike. God will punish.
“Matki, matki,” Ferenc sighs, “is time to work.”
The whistle screams the oven is now hot enough.
All rise.
Tej van. Kenjer van. Es van.
Take; eat; this is my flesh.
Take; drink; this, my blood.
He tithes himself to the furnaces.
It is a simple ritual. Later, there
will be shoeleather steak and tea
thin coffee at the Millgate before
the brief walk to the tired shanty
homes where millmen weep themselves
asleep embracing icons of sainted wives
slowly sepia colored, the rub of thumbs
dogging the corners blackened with oil.
But in their dreams there are lips
the color of tokaji and colored flesh
the color of tender fresh breadcrusts
clutched; they moan in separate beds.
Father Hrbi at Immaculate Conception
knows Ferenc Ferenchaza knows a koorveh
whose skin is night, whose sweat is stars,
whose eyes are bright mayhaw and almonds,
whose oven burns with Ferenchaza’s coals.
Together, they speak in broken tongues;
together, they speak of broken promise;
They are America.
They sleep.
They do not dream.
chcesz zyskac niesmiertelnosc
       przez jaki czyn dzielny:
glupis! czy chcesz, czy nie chcesz,
       bedziesz niesmiertelny.
you wish to be immortal
       through acts of bravery.
fool! wish or no wish,
       you will gain immortality.
Istvan Seraphimovich Pietrcsek! It simply will not do;
you need something new, somewhat more Anglo, too.
Here he is a moment’s recognition from difference
of shape and use between monkey and pipe wrench.
Five minutes after lunch, Od the old Norse teaches
how to cut grease from fingernails, and his palms,
and balls of hands. Learning to be workman is a matter
of such detail (kerosene, lye soap, kerosene, aftershave
to smarten wounds, make smell less mill, more a lover).
Here he is being told old ways of mysterious men
who share secret habits not shared among wives
who fear for their safety and for their lives
at the hands of ignorance. Remember always
that you are stupid; will forever be; take pride
in the unknown; it leads to questions; questions
lead to life (fools get no dangerous work to do;
eagerness dies before the shift is through).
After lunch he is asked if he knows Crane,
if he would fix Crane over vat; Take Cola, he’s told,
with cap on tight—exploding tells heat’s too strong.
Home, Age, or Next of Kin? We only know his S.S.N.
Near Debrecen horsemen pasture stallions on the remaining pusta
as did their fathers who are giant memory; they wear the hat
and boots (as if the village streets were mud) as had their fathers worn.
In Sopron there stands a church in which my mother’s blood and mine
still sits in prayer as if the beads bring peace to a family unseen.
Broadcast continuance, such is the conquest history has won.
Each in its place unswerved by change can measure what is man—
neither rebel, fool, nor the Hun, but man as common trance;
the farmer at his fields, the millwright at his flour, commoners.
Such is the victory over time, that individuals or communities keep pace.
Such is the victory of time, the changing vista ’round unchanging grace:
In Budapest the Turkish baths are full and, afterward,
there’s cafe Viennese and Linzer torte. These things, more than citizen
or mother tongue, denote a dream still dreamt,
a dream from which one cannot walk away.
                                                    I cannot walk away.
How could I leave my hands that gesture as she had
or turn my eyes toward another vision of the world
as if I’d not been born a son of him who felt
and saw this earth as he had seen. Had I been
immaculate in birth no less could I have been
than I am now. There must be dreams from which one cannot walk away.
I know this as one knows of breath—I am his untrained son and, yet,
I am the factory in which he died, the mine in which he began his work,
I am no less the stowage of the ship in which he slept and therein dreamt;
I am the woman with the swollen womb; I am what she had been to him;
and I am what was for them as much as I am what I am and must become:
The stallion—history, the sword of time, the one moment—mine,
the past forever in the child alive as in those who gave it birth.
Thus, Paris burned and plundered lies beneath my breath; the continent
in movement is the movement that I make; from where I stand, seasons
and the corners of the earth stretch out; the center of the shape of things
I am; round me and mine wherever is my blood, THERE is Ungarn, Hungary,
the Magyar land from setting sun to risen light, beyond and round again.
Such, as it was for mine and as it will for mine: it is a dream and not.
There must be dreams from which one cannot walk away; there must.
It is something that the Jews have known, a Covenant with God;
and, yet, I am no Jew nor have I been at any place in time.
An Israelite without that history, a Zionist who dreams that dream,
and, yet, I have not been of these and neither have my kin. A dream.
It is a dream that lives; it is a gypsy breathing in my soul;
it is an unconscious sphere of thought within—a dream,
as some would say—but it is more than that which lives:
it lives and dies; it breathes beneath my breath; its sacrifice
particular to its own gods, its ritual and its own gold calves.
The past— life given us at birth— a dream from which none walks away.
Yet, we crave it in our bones: those dreams from which one walks away.
Our freedom is to do its will; to change—though with unchanging grace;
to realize in every-day there is the dream—a Zionist within our genes;
to never walk away from that which one cannot walk away. The dream.
A sense of place, a memory, a happenstance of lucky birth, sixth sense,
                                                                 or call it deja vu.
                                                                 No. No. And No.
There MUST be dreams from which one cannot walk away.
Now, child, one of them is you.
szabadsag, szerelem! E ketto kell nekem.
freedom, love! These things I crave.
To a lover about to escape into the thicket of time,
you must know that being here now is no promise
that you will be real to me when after I wake
in the morning you are gone.
After the dream come the routine tasks of reshuffling
memories back to make room for desires yet fulfilled.
Be as you must part of my life past; admonish yourself
that nothing real can escape to the thicket of time.
Either do not escape me this time or be dreamlike.
I neither escape nor dream but I keep you with me
(Blue Lioness, sleek huntress of night, morning
is harsh without real sunlight and without you
there is little sunlight at dawn).
Her words the sparrows in branches spoke,
above the elmwood, flew in the cold stone,
murmured in the rockbound corner of town
where the old Sundays gathered to picnic
on the remains of Saturday adolescents
who had come to test love nights before
family communion and to eat the sins of the dead
in souls of birds clattering the elmwood branches.
Here where I’d been a Saturday boy
I with my father unloved came
to terms in this place where he lay
beside her under the tree; I said,
son, these are my father’s bones
and my mother’s flesh and blood
not made for stone on the forehead
but for trees planted in the heart.
In our hands from their hands take
the cross and let them hold seed
that will ramify among sparrows
there in the branches eating worms
that on these morsels fed and rose
from soggy earth after slight rain.
Here I was one of the Saturday boys
testing love with a sparrow of woman;
I was the motherless one who slew
what little hope we shared for manhood,
spilling the first seed behind headstone,
ashamed; I was the one who had known
no greater love beyond my father’s hand
that so quickly withdrew
when I almost was a man
stepping from this cold corner
into the world around with her words
like sparrows in my heart speaking
the clatter of that promise love might
have brought me, what father had
always loved—an idea of love unending.
And so, my son, my father’s name,
his bones, my blood, his cross and tree,
my son, these will be yours; listen
to the courage of the sparrow in a tree.
Table of related information
Copyright ©John Horváth Jr., 2002
By the same author RSS
Date of publicationFebruary 2003
Collection RSSA Hot January
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